I’ve had more or less 68 days in country so far, if my math is right, so I guess I was probably past due for a Creepy Bug Encounter. Usually they happen in the first week or so, and you get your Bug Scream down pat and go on with your life; I thought I might be immune, but apparently I am just behind the curve.
I am not usually all that bothered by insects; it helps that there aren’t any poisonous or even really large bugs where I live. Mosquitoes are annoying, and I could live without black flies and june bugs or those beetles that invade gardens to munch on plants and have orange guts when you squash them, but overall Mother Nature and I coexist pretty contentedly.
During my site visit, on one of the days that I spent in the health center, someone from one of the outlying communities brought in an enormous chagas bug in a plastic bag, and that gave me pause. (We all live in utter fear of chagas disease thanks to the horror stories people love to tell about it – look it up and you’ll probably see why. It is like an invisible stalker of a disease that hangs out until you can’t even remember where you might have gotten it and then totally destroys your life; no thanks.) I made sure to ask the woman who had the bug where she was from, how far she lived from my town, and why she was wandering around with a chagas bug just chilling in a bag. (MINSA requires people to bring in chagas bugs when they find them in their houses, so they can record where they’re found; smart thinking. My next mission is to find the chart they record the information on and see where I am safe.)
So I handled the chagas bug pretty coolly and made sure my mosquito net was tucked in as tightly as it possibly could be at night and thought I was pretty safe.
But the bugs wait, and while they wait they have little buggy conferences about how best to take advantage of your smug complacency. And then this morning they struck.
It always seems like they find you in the bathroom in whatever Horrific Bug Story someone tells; there’s something about coming face to face with an enormous bug with beady eyes when you are barefoot and have only a travel towel with which to defend yourself that makes the whole experience a hundred times more terrifying. There I am, picking up my shampoo, and all of a sudden a cockroach launches itself at me out of nowhere, screaming its little war cry as it waves all of its legs around and scuttles toward me as menacingly as it could.
That made me jump, but I recovered well and dove for the bucket of water with the vague notion of washing it out the hole in the wall that serves as a drain, and something else brushed my hand. I looked down, and there was a spider literally bigger than my hand glaring at me with all eight eyes and looking even madder than spiders usually do.
I screamed. I’ll admit it. I don’t have a very impressive Bug Scream, nothing like the bloodcurdling, earsplitting ones you hear in movies when there’s someone on top of a chair with mice running around below, but it was loud enough for my purposes. I hit the cockroach with my bottle of shampoo, which only stunned it for a moment before it disappeared into the shadows somewhere, the way cockroaches always seem to do. Then the spider and I sat there for few minutes in a stand-off, watching each other.
“I need that bucket,” I pointed out, but it was unimpressed. Spiders are obnoxiously reticent at the best of times, and this one was mad at me to boot.
“Spider,” I said, “look, I respect your right to inhabit this bathroom, fine, but I have soap in my eyes and it is too early to deal with stubborn arachnids.”
No response. I finally ended up sort of gingerly splashing it with a little water, and it sidled away to lurk in the curtain, glowering balefully down at me the whole time, which made me entirely uneasy. I kept twitching my head around to keep an eye on it, half-afraid it might leap at me like the cockroach. I read the book Arachnophobia as a kid, and of course the only bits that stuck with me are the parts where the protagonists are shooting at enormous spiders with nail guns and the things just keep coming – this is not really a good thing for your peace of mind, especially as it is singularly disconcerting to be glared at by a spider to begin with.
My host mother found and killed it this afternoon, in case anyone with a horror of spiders should need to use our bathroom, but not before telling me that this spider is not actually large. “Oh no,” she told me; “this is just a little one.”
I’m definitely going to have to work on my Bug Scream.